Ask any gamer what the God Of War series means to them and the first thing they'll probably they'll say blood, in volumes that make Peter Jackson's World Record-holding Braindead seem like a pin-prick. They'd also probably talk about epic set piece battles and controller-snappingly frustrating quick-time events. Of course Santa Monica Studios have now gotten expanding David Jaffe's epic series down to a fine art.
While God Of War's blend of quick-time events, lavishly gory hack and slash combat and simple puzzle platforming has become pretty standard fare these days nobody does it with quite as much grandeur and where the series does innovate is in escalating the grandeur with each instalment.
And that is where we pick up with God Of War: Ascension. While this is a prequel, telling the story of perpetually suffering Spartan hero Kratos before he supplanted Aries as the God Of War Santa Monica Studios has managed to dial up the scale of the action now squeezing every bit of performance that the PS3 can muster.
The single player demo we have our hands on starts out as a pretty standard fare, showing Kratos imprisoned by the Furies immortal beings brought into existence to punish traitors to the gods of Olympus. After a short quick-time event battling one of the Furies, we manage to free Kratos and chase her out of the prison. It does seem very familiar until you reach a large gateway blocked by an inverted portcullis.
At this point the short cutscene that serves as a prologue to the demo becomes to make more sense. It speaks of Hecatonchires, a massive multi-armed brute that was the first creature to be punished by the Furies. Now Hecatonchires isn't incarcerated in the prison, he is the prison. The Fury Kratos is chasing brings one of Hecatonchires' smaller arms to life using some of her insect minions to mutate it into a typically nasty-looking creature.
This also brings the prison to life and as the battle between Kratos and the Hecatonchires continues the game takes on a new dimension. The environment becomes much more dynamic than ever before. The fight escalates punctuated by some platforming and some combat with smaller minons in between the ongoing battle between the giant mutant hand monster.
At one point Hecatonchires breaks off a block of prison cells, shakes it and rotates it to present Kratos with several waves of enemies. It is probably the most impressive sequence in the short demo and it highlights Santa Monica Studios' commitment to presenting Kratos story on an even greater scale than ever before. As the prison shakes and moves around forcing Kratos to jump between walls at right angles to each other we are reminded of the craziest segments of Platinum Games' intense Bayonetta and its very fluid environments sometimes having Bayonetta running on walls and ceilings while pirouetting and slicing down her enemies.
While the young Kratos in God Of War: Ascension may much of the grace of Bayonetta he still presents a commanding presence and fighting across such a dynamic environment, as scripted as it is, shows that this latest entry in the series is on track to dwarfing God Of War III in terms of scale.
The other main feature on show in this demo is the new ability of Kratos to disarm opponents and pick up and use the discarded weapons. A well-timed tap of the circle button and Kratos will kick over the enemy knocking their weapon out of their hand allowing him to pick it up and it is now mapped to the circle button. These weapons add some much-needed variety to Kratos' attacks over and above his iconic Blades Of Chaos as well as giving him some useful abilities. Two additional weapons are on show a heavy two-handed sword and a spear.
The two-handed sword is fairly straight forward. A useful attack that ranges in between the light and heavy attacks of the Blades Of Chaos. It also has a one use attack accessed by holding L1 and pressing circle. In the case of the sword Kratos throws it at the enemy he is facing causing a fair amount of damage and knocking the enemy to the ground.
The spear is a bit more fun. It is primarily a ranged weapon allowing Kratos to whittle enemies down from afar before they can get close enough to cause him damage. Its one-use secondary attack is also ranged with Kratos tossing the spear high into the air, pinning a target to the ground when it lands.
Everything seems to be on track for God Of War: Ascension to be a very worthy end to Kratos' run on the PS3. From what is on show in the demo God Of War: Ascension plays very well. The set pieces have the requisite sense of scale and the new additions to the combat system work very well within the series' established framework. It's probably not going to win any awards for innovation but God Of War: Ascension but with all the potential of the PS3 now unlocked and Santa Monica Studios' uncanny ability to produce tight and accessible gameplay this could easily be one of 2013's gaming high points.
God Of War: Ascension hits the PS3 on March the 15th.